Apple has made other moves that appear to appease the Chinese government. It recently removed the Taiwanese flag emoji from iPhone keyboards in certain areas, including Hong Kong.
On Sept. 30, Apple pulled the app of the news organization Quartz from the App Store in China, Quartz said. The news organization, which has covered the Hong Kong protests, said Apple sent it a vague notice about removing its app “because it includes content that is illegal in China.” Apple did not clarify what content was illegal, Quartz said. An editor there tweeted that Apple removed it “at the request of China.”
Zach Seward, Quartz’s chief executive, said in a statement, “We abhor this kind of government censorship of the internet, and have great coverage of how to get around such bans around the world,” and included a link to its articles about software designed to dodge censorship.
Apple declined to comment on the Quartz app on Wednesday and did not respond to a request regarding the Taiwanese flag emoji.
Apple has long prided itself on how every app in its App Store is approved by one of its employees, unlike the largely automated approach used by Google on Android phones. Apple employs teams of app reviewers who must meet quotas for reviewing apps, including dozens of Chinese-language specialists, according to former app reviewers. Apps that pose tricky policy questions are deliberated during weekly meetings of a review board of senior executives, led by Phil Schiller, an executive who heads the App Store. That board decided to remove the HKmap.live app, said a person familiar with the decision who declined to be named because the process was confidential.
Separately, Google this week removed a mobile game, “The Revolution of Our Times I,” which allowed users to play as Hong Kong protesters. Google said it pulled the app from the Android app store worldwide because it violated its policy that bars “developers from capitalizing on sensitive events.” The developer, who declined to be named, said in an email that he or she donated 80 percent of the app’s revenues to a group supporting the Hong Kong protests.
A Google spokesman said the company discovered the game and decided to remove it during regular reviews of Android apps. He said Google did not hear from the Chinese government or Hong Kong police about it.